It is true, you never forget how to ride a bike. Riding a bike well is a different story, and one that I took some time to acquaint myself with today. The saddle has not touched my sit bones for two and a half weeks, and if that were not enough I have done no other physical activity that you could call exercise since that last ride in Tenerife.
To add illness to insult, the insides of my lungs have felt, and sounded like, Sharon Shannon's accordion after being run over by a truck on the way home from the pub, but played anyway, in some kind of cruel grinding fashion. I have had nosebleeds like the flowing waters of the Red Nile, only at half past two in the morning, taken more corticosteroids than Lance Armstrong (well probably not, but I have consumed a lot), and a whole course of Amoxicillan.
These are my excuses, but, I was feeling quite pleased with myself to have made it out, round and back from a 49 mile course in the freezing Mendips, until Mrs Mendip Rouleur, who is not given to swearing, or commenting on my post-cycling appearance in general, told me I looked "totally fucked". I will take that as a positive sign.
I had been due to ride the Mad March Hare sportive today, I'm sure it was great, Jennifer's blog will cover it soon. Despite by best intentions me and the MMH have a patchy history. The first time I did it my chain snapped, the second, last year, I got pretty close to hypothermia in the snow. So my absence today must have made for a jolly ride for everyone.
I decided to bite the bullet and just get out and ride, turn the legs over, see if I could still do it. My lung capacity figures may say I'm back to what passes as normal for me, but the squeaky noises emanating from within were saying anything but. Of course it was nice and cold too, and the biting east wind just added to the general motivation to ride. But it had to be done, Spring is on the way.
So with the words of Mrs MR ("are you sure it's wise to do this?") acting as a final encourager, off I headed into the wide open world of the Mendips. Despite the sunny forecast, the outlook was grey as far as the eye could see, and after a couple of miles my ambitious plan was being scaled back to an hour's gentle spin. My legs felt fine, but the breathing? Oh dear, it was like someone had stuffed wet cotton wool in my bronchial passages and I was going very, very slowly, all the while spreading Mendip Rouleur DNA across the land as I coughed and spluttered into form.
I decided, kill or cure, let's do hills. That and the fact that the road up to Shipham was shut to cars, meaning a nice quiet few miles (because whatever the statistics say, Sunday just has to be the most dangerous day of the week to be a cyclist, it's almost as if some car drivers leave their brains at the office over the weekend), induced me into possibly the maddest decision of my cycling life. Fortunately, Mr Ventolin was also on this trip, and he did the necessary, getting me up to Shipham and down the other side into Cheddar.
Having recovered on the descent of Shipham Hill, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do Cheddar Gorge. Slightly less Ventolin this time but the headwind didn't improve the pleasure factor, so I decided to drop down into Westbury and take it from there. What next? Easton over to Wookey and then Old Bristol Hill of course.
More signs of Spring were there, despite the bleak nature of the weather and the sky. I paused for breath, literally, had some food, and realised that I was actually starting to feel OK. Not brilliant, but OK. Maybe it was all the Ventolin, or maybe the surface of my lungs had been scoured of all the gunk and was available for Oxygen exchange, but I started to actually enjoy myself.
After Old Bristol Hill it was just a case of a little pootle around the levels to get home. Except for one short sharp hill up to the top of Mudgley Hill. Not the main road, no the recently re-opened little 20% dig just to the East. Try it, it's fun, and you get the added pleasure of the farm dog chasing you as the road "relaxes" back to 12%, when of course you have that spurt of energy to escape it.
By now my lungs were fine, it was my legs and general energy level that I was struggling with. I loped past the windmill, circled through Cross and Axbridge and came home. I felt tired, but didn't realised how bad I looked until my beloved informed me. Not quite the strutting alpha male of the Spring then.
Still, I did manage almost 50 miles, and a fair bit of climbing, in this route around the hills and levels. With a few long rides ahead of me, I can have a week off now as pick-up duty beckons, but to be honest, I'm not enamoured with all this Spring weather in any case.
I'm sorry I wasn't able to make the MMH, but I do have a couple of events in the next few weeks to make up for it. Next week I'm riding with a broadcasting legend, who used to ride a bike pretty effectively. No, it's not Sean Kelly, although it is always good to hear talk of the "mearn boonch", that way you really know it's Spring!
And for all my moaning it was actually great to get out on the bike, seeing things like 4 3/4 miles to Cheddar, it's enough to gladden your heart isn't it.
And the weather can only improve, honest.